strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘sex’

Splendor in the Grass? Lions on a Very Hot Date

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 25, 2014

Chitabe 392

(Photos: Dave Hamman)

The photographer Dave Hamman took these photos of lions in flagrante delicto.  I was immediately reminded of Lord Chesterfield’s remark about sex: “The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.”

At least in this case the female maintains a certain decorum.

Chitabe 394

Or maybe she’s just bored.

The male meanwhile seems Read the rest of this entry »


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Going Extinct to Boost the Sex Lives of The Rich and Powerful

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 8, 2014

(Photo: Oldansolo / Flickr)

(Photo: Oldansolo / Flickr)

My latest column for Takepart (the website for the movie company Participant Media):

Every year beginning in November, the tawny, mottled birds known as houbara bustards make their annual migration southwest from their breeding grounds in Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia. Most end up in the deserts of Pakistan.

Another migration, by some of the richest and most powerful men in the world, soon follows them there, armed with almost every kind of hunting weapon imaginable.

Well, no drones, so far. But for Pakistani environmentalists, the uncontrolled slaughter by foreign powers is almost as enraging. The hunters often deploy Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Ancient Insects in Flagrante

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 7, 2013

Eternal love (Photo: Li S, Shih C, Wang C, Pang H, Ren D/Many Hands Snapshot Co.)

Eternal love (Photo: Li S, Shih C, Wang C, Pang H, Ren D/Many Hands Snapshot Co.)

People always say it’s a good way to go.   But I’m pretty sure this happy couple didn’t expect to be together for 165 million years.  Hmm.  Yeah, it starts with casual sex and next you know you’ve been married forever.

Also, unusually for insects, they seem to be making the two-backed beast. I was thinking this was just an artifact of being buried in mud halfway through the act.  But apparently froghopper insects still do it this way.

Here’s the press release:

Scientists have found the oldest fossil depicting copulating insects in northeastern China, published November 6th in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Dong Ren and colleagues at the Capital Normal University in China.

Fossil records of mating insects are fairly sparse, and therefore our current knowledge of mating position and genitalia orientation in the early stages of evolution is rather limited.

In this study, the authors present a fossil of a pair of copulating froghoppers, a type of small insect that hops from plant to plant much like tiny frogs. The well-preserved fossil of these two froghoppers showed belly-to-belly mating position and depicts the male reproductive organ inserting into the female copulatory structure.

This is the earliest record of copulating insects to date, and suggests that froghoppers’ genital symmetry and mating position have remained static for over 165 million years. Ren adds, “We found these two very rare copulating froghoppers which provide a glimpse of interesting insect behavior and important data to understand their mating position and genitalia orientation during the Middle Jurassic.”

Shu Li, Chungkun Shih, Chen Wang, Hong Pang, Dong Ren. Forever Love: The Hitherto Earliest Record of Copulating Insects from the Middle Jurassic of China. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (11): e78188 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078188

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Strange Sex

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 3, 2011

The Natural History Museum in London has a new exhibition called “Sexual Nature,” and The Telegraph recently featured a few of the odd behaviors described there.  Here is the prize for least seductive courtship technique:

Male porcupines also have a rather unpleasant habit. They spray the females with their urine in a bid to attract them. The urine is filled with hormones that cause the females to become sexually attracted.

And this might just be the most, oh, anti-climactic:

Red velvet mites try another ploy often seen in humans – they paint for their partners. The tiny male arachnids lay down intricate trails of silk for the female to follow.

If she likes the artistry of the trail, she will follow it to the end and sit on a deposit of sperm the male has left there.

You can read the whole article here.

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Sexy Sundays: Happy Times for Lesbian Lizards

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 7, 2009

Equal opportunity sex

Equal opportunity sex

Did you ever wonder why men play such a small part in the perpetuation of life, and spend so much time fighting, bragging, and leaving the toilet seat up? Did you ever wonder why they exist at all? Maybe you thought there should be some other way to accomplish their small reproductive task. Or maybe you thought the pleasure of being part of a sexual species was worth the hassle.

If you thought any of those things, your idea was not original. A Southwestern whiptail lizard species, Cnemidophorus uniparens, has cut out all the expense of sexual reproduction, but— unlike other asexual species— kept the fun part. These whiptails have an entirely female population, but continue to engage in sexual behavior called pseudocopulation.

During their erotic encounters whiptail lizards will assume “male” or “female” roles depending on Read the rest of this entry »

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Sexy Sundays: Tarantula Love

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 25, 2009

For my book Everything Creeping Thing, I was lucky to see what sex is like when the happy couple has eight legs and two fangs apiece.  For this story on tarantulas, which started out as a National Geographic assignment, I traveled up the Amazon from Iquitos, Peru.  But if I recall correctly, this scene occurred at a tarantula hobbyist’s home in Los Angeles.  The hobbyist was an acting teacher, who used tarantulas to teach young actors god-knows-what.  So maybe a scene like this influenced some of Kate Winslet’s recent movies:

One day I watched two huge tarantulas mating, and it had all the ferocity and passion of a tango. Gingerly, their front legs touched, then she sidestepped away, and he followed. With his pedipalps, the leg-like appendages at his front end, he beat a tattoo on the ground, a declaration of interest. He began to court and caress her, drumming his pedipalps on her carapace. Gradually, face-to-face, they twined their front limbs together like the fingers of two hands in velvet gloves.

 They pushed one another up in the reared-back position of both love and war. The male hooked his front legs over her fangs, and with his second set of legs held her down and bent her backward. Then he reached under to transfer the sperm from his pedipa lps to the epigynal fold at her midsection. Afterwards, the male released one of the female’s fangs and positioned his legs for an indelicate exit. In moments of post-coital tristesse, a female will often kill the male, a handy source of protein for her newly-fertilized eggs. This time, the dance ended with the male scrambling safely out of reach.

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Lights Off, Please: We’re Having Sex Here

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 11, 2008

firefliesThere was a sad story in The New York Times the other day about the decline of fireflies in Southeast Asia, due to human encroachment on their habitat, particularly from intrusive lighting that discourages these pulsing, luminescent beetles from mating.  The story doesn’t elaborate on the point, but ecotourism to see the fireflies also seems to be a culprit.  Here’s part of the story:

The people who live along the Mae Klong River here, an hour south of Bangkok, offer the kind of anecdotal evidence that has caused concern. A generation ago, they say, the flashing trees were so thick along the riverbank that they served almost as beacons for boaters in the night.

“The light from the fireflies helped us see the curves and junctions of those canals at night and helped us paddle through,” said Klao Sakulnum, 68, who has lived here since she was a child.

Fishermen worked in their nighttime glow, said Pisit Ek Thaiprasert, 40, a firefly conservationist who lives near here. Before electricity arrived, he said, villagers put them in bottles to provide a dim light inside their mosquito nets, about as strong as a cellphone screen.

Since then, he said, development and firefly tourism have reduced their population along this part of the river by two-thirds.

Here’s some background reading on fireflies.

The photo comes from a web site about organic gardening in Michigan.

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